*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Not having enough money can seriously affect your relationship, and when your partner feels you should also be paying for someone else instead of looking after your kids, arguments will show up quickly.
Where is the limit, and how much should you do to support friends when you can't buy enough things to make sure your kids are having all their meals and snacks? Is it ever ok to reproach your spouse for not spending the money left from their salary to pay for a friend's meal instead of cooking something for your family?
My friend Denise, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, has been married to Jack, her husband, for four years. They have a son together and are currently struggling with money issues since Jack lost his job.
"We were doing just fine when we got married. We both had full-time jobs, and we could afford house payments and got a nice place in Phoenix. But after our third anniversary, things changed a lot. Jack lost his job, and he's not that focused on getting a new position," Denise said.
In the first few months of their marriage, Denise felt confident they shared the same goals for a long-term relationship, and she liked the fact that Jack didn't insist on her being a stay-at-home mom.
"He grew up seeing his mom as a housewife, and he liked that kind of family, but once I explained I wouldn't feel happy doing that, he understood me. He didn't reproach me for not being home all the time with our son, and he was ok with both of us being successful in our careers," Denise said.
Unfortunately, things didn't stay that way. Once Denise became a mom and went back to work, Jack criticized her because she couldn't handle all housework and needed her mom's help. Denise also got along well with her mother-in-law, and she came to look after the baby a few afternoons every week.
"He kept telling me I was disturbing everyone else for things I should be doing myself, and our relationship started to become different from what it used to be. And when I pointed out I had to work and earn a salary, he said we would be fine only from his income. That just wasn't the case; he was earning a lot less, and I couldn't figure out why," Denise said.
She asked why his salary was lower, and Jack told her they didn't have as many projects as before in his Phoenix office, but when she spoke to his colleagues, they let her know he asked to work only part-time. And when she told him she knew what was going on, they argued, and Jack asked her to stop distrusting him and let him do what he thought would help his career.
"I didn't want to interfere, but we were still paying for the house in Phoenix. And if he wasn't earning that much, I had to cover the rest. Arguing didn't help our relationship, but I couldn't be quiet. I had to know at least if I would need to do some overtime. But he just kept saying I wasn't good enough with cooking, cleaning, and looking after our son," Denise said.
Things stayed tense until after their third anniversary. At that point, Jack let her know he wouldn't go on working in the same place. And when Denise asked about his reasons, he just said he was bored and needed a complete career change.
"He needed to try something else and couldn't go on working with those people. He also said he might want to study. But who would pay for it all if he gave up on income? It would still be me," Denise said.
While she pointed out he wasn't being fair, Jack didn't change his mind. After leaving his job, he spent a few weeks taking walks, playing games, and watching TV. Denise put in more hours at work to be able to manage everything and encouraged him to make up his mind about what kind of work he wanted to try.
"I talked to his parents because we had a close relationship, and they told me it had happened two times before but that he was back on track in a month or two. This time, it looked like it would be a while until he would be motivated enough to actually do something," Denise said.
As time passed and Jack didn't have any clear goals, their relationship became more stressful, and there wasn't enough money to buy everything they needed. Even getting groceries in Phoenix became difficult to handle before paychecks came in, and Denise found it harder and harder to prepare meals and have enough snacks for her son.
As this was happening, Jack got in touch with one of his high school friends, Liam. They hadn't talked in more than four years, and Jack was excited to find out more about his life.
Liam had just gotten divorced, and he had a part-time job. He was living with one of his sisters but still had difficulty buying the things he wanted.
"He invited him to have lunch and dinner with us at least four times a week, and our fridge just got so empty. I couldn't afford to get groceries so often, and Liam always wanted a second helping of everything. I didn't want to be rude, but it was getting to a point where I wouldn't have snacks for my son. It was just too much," Denise said.
She told her husband he could go out with Liam and pay for his meals if he wanted to, but Jack got upset on hearing that. He didn't have any money to invite Liam to restaurants, and he expected his wife to manage to get groceries for them and a bit more for when Liam wanted to spend an evening at their home in Phoenix.
Their relationship got more distant, and Denise couldn't find a way to convince him to avoid inviting Liam so often for meals. She spoke to Jack's mom, and she called and texted her son. Jack still went ahead and asked Liam to visit despite all that.
The only help Denise got was some money from her parents and Jack's mom to be able to buy food at the store.
And yesterday something unexpected happened. Denise just had $10 left of her previous paycheck, and she went to the store to see what she could find for their son. She met Jack over there, and he asked for the money to get a few bagels for Liam.
"That was the final thing for me. He wants me to spend my salary to get food for his friend; I don't have enough to cook for our son. I'm not working to keep his friend happy. He can get a job for that," Denise said.
She didn't give him the money, and she told him that unless Liam stopped coming to their home, she wanted a divorce, and he had to pack his things in three days. Jack is very surprised at her reaction and thinks she's overreacting.
Denise has had enough at this point and is considering what she needs to do to make life better for herself and her son. And Jack is very unlikely to be a part of that.
What do you think about this situation? Is it ok for Jack to ask for his wife's last money to buy something for his friend, knowing his son needs extra snacks too? Should Jack focus on getting a job and improving his relationship with his wife instead of being nice to his friend if he wants to keep his family?